Team Dayā presented the updates on our three completed schools as well as our future building plans along with a call to action:
#1 Invest. Help us reach our $40,000 fundraising goal for the LUMA DMS conference. Donate and invest in our generational impact, high ROI “primary schools start-up” – donate to the LUMA campaign here. Special gratitude for major gifts from Rajeev Goal at Pubmatic ($5,000), Stephen Master at GTCR ($5000) and Brian Barnum and Stephen Royer of Shamrock Capital ($5,000).
#2 Voice. Invite us to speak at your conference or to your employees. Big, big thanks to Terry Kawaja, his newest partner Conor McKenna, Ashley Holmes, Susan Marshall and the rest of LUMA for integrating us into there annual DMS event.
#3 Team. Consider joining our Team and travel to a school build in Nicaragua (November 2023), Nepal (spring 2024) or another destination. We promise one of the most joyful experiences of your life. Reach out to any team member or contact our head of recruiting.
Our team members Nicolle Pangis of Ampersand, Mike Benedek of Datonics or Jay Sears of Team Dayā (fka mastercard, Rubicon Project) were waving the team flag. All three are part of a larger group of ten headed to the groups next school building project in Malawi (East Africa) in early July.
My trip to Guatemala with Team Dayā began some years ago when I first met Jay Sears at an IAB Leadership Summit cocktail party in Palm Springs, California. I joined Team Dayā during covid-19 with the goal of raising $10,000 towards a Senegal school build and am proud to have raised over $31,000 to date thanks to generous donations from old friends, new friends, family, and from my own company Datonics’ ad-tech giveback initiative with agencies and brands.
I describe my motivation for joining, my personal connection to education, and my experience on that April 2022 Senegal school build in a past post. Needless to say I was hooked, and I remain hooked. I traveled to Senegal to give of myself but received so much more back in return – and Guatemala was no different!
The flight to Guatemala City from JFK was scheduled for 4.5 hours and ended up taking 12+ hours due to weather delays. Upon landing, I made my way to the colonial city of Antigua (our meeting place for the 5-hour drive to the village) and enjoyed a short restorative hike and a dinner with our local school building partners.
The following morning Jay Sears & Jordan Mitchell (see Jordan’s account) arrived and we were off to the races – learning about the village we would be building in, the history and culture of Guatemala (including some language training in Spanish as well as the Mayan language Quiché). We learned the village had no road or electricity as recently as 10 years ago and the current K-6 school was a wood board hut with a dirt floor and a single teacher.
The drive from Antigua to the remote mountain village took five hours over winding mountain roads with scenes of poverty interspersed with scenic valleys, hills and mountain tops. After a quick lunch (and last exposure to a flush toilet for five days) we met up with the translator who would be joining us and drove the final 45 minutes to the village. We arrived at an experience that can only be truly conceptualized if you were there.
The entire village came out to meet with us – children of all ages, women dressed in beautiful colorful attire with babies on their backs and men of all ages. There was a lot of music – the theme of this school building in Guatemala for me was the music and the bonds that music makes possible.
Music played, the children danced, welcome speeches were made, and we became part of their family. We signed a covenant with the villagers (many of them signed with their fingerprints since they never learned to write) formalizing their commitment to complete the school and keep it accessible for all boys and girls. Later on, we even imprinted our handprints into bricks that were included in the school building foundation.
The family aspect of this experience cannot be overstated – Jay, Jordan, and I were placed with a host family. Mayk (pronounced “Mike”), Rosa and Mayk’s sister Juana and their daughters gave us a room in their house and made us feel at home, welcoming us like they knew us forever.
We set up our cots and spent some quality time with our hosts playing cards and Jenga. We were also entertained by the many animals that wandered around their yard and into our room – dogs, cats, chicken, ducks and more.
After dinner our family would start a small campfire and we all sat around and exchanged stories (using Google Translate), laughed and listened to music. This formula for a good time was repeated every night and we looked forward to it!
Mornings were spent on the worksite doing the manual labor required to build the school, hand-in-hand with the local villagers — men, women, and even some children who loaded rocks into wheelbarrows. The work was challenging but felt easier than in Senegal (where the temperature was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) since I knew what to expect.
I rotated mostly between loading rocks into wheelbarrows, digging holes that became the foundation for the school, mixing cement (that was hard!) and using a heavy tamper device to level the ground so it would be uniform.
We used our break time to visit the current simple school house and meet the children, listening to their stories, their plans and how excited they were about the school we were all building together. During the afternoons we spent time with the local villagers doing varied activities to build bonds such as a hike to the local cemetery through a mountain trail and a lesson on tortilla making (and eating!).
As it is sometimes true that all good things must come to an end, it was soon time to say goodbye and the village organized an elaborate ceremony including many dances, music, speeches, and multiple pinatas with candy for the children. We gave speeches thanking the villagers for their partnership and explaining that while only three of us were in the community, we represented hundreds of generous donors who made the school a reality.
A highlight of the closing ceremony was an element we added to it – since our host was a fan of the band Santana and so were we, and since the children invited us to dance with them during their traditional dance, at the conclusion of our speeches we invited all of the children to join us in a village-wide conga line and we all danced together to Santana.
As I mentioned before, I came to give and represent our donors who have given generously, but I received so much in return. Senegal and Guatemala are now behind me, but the schools we built in both places will serve generations and the experiences will remain forever etched in my memory.
Next stop for me with Team Dayā – Malawi in 75 days! I can’t wait to get there and start building! Thanks to all the donors for making this miracle possible and to Jay for your inspiring vision and leadership!
I just returned back to the US after commencing the school build in Guatemala. It was such an incredible, heart-warming experience to be immersed in the village, living and working alongside the community. Not only am I grateful and honored to have had your support for this school build, I can’t even tell you how happy the village is to have a proper school for their children. Your donation has meant so much to all of these families!!
It took us 4-5 hours of travel from Guatemala City to reach the remote village (see the village in Google Maps here), where they had assembled to welcome us and celebrate our arrival. Children danced and showered us with flower petals, while the adults (with the help of a translator) expressed their deep gratitude — explaining that they’ve been trying to get a real school for a long time (to replace the wood shack they’ve been using). We conveyed our appreciation for the warm welcome, and explained to them that we were but three of a long list of generous people who were privileged to support them with a new school for their children.
After the opening celebration, we met the local family who had opened their home to us; where we would be staying for the week. The three of us — me, Jay Sears, and Mike Benedek — slept in the same room on cots with mosquito netting, though the cold temps kept the mosquitos at bay.
Our homestay family had many dogs, cats, ducks, geese, chickens, roosters, rabbits,, and one pig, all of whom — like everyone in the village — were very curious and interested to meet us! Mornings came early, and the days consisted of hard physical labor on the school build site followed by afternoon cultural activities, all with the community. We played games with the children, went for walks, learned how to make tortillas, laughed a lot, and tended to our sore muscles.
As is required by our non-profit partner buildOn of all school builds, each community member (adult men AND women) signs a covenant committing to support the school for their children, and their children’s children. Nearly half the adults were illiterate and unable to sign their name, so they signed with their thumb print.
Similar to Nepal, I especially noted and appreciated the inner strength of the women in the community, who do so much to hold their families and community together. In this village (much like many areas of the world), gender equity is still a large opportunity.
Throughout the week, we connected with the parents and children within the community — with the help of our translators (and also Google Translate). They all wanted to know more about us, where we live, what it’s like where we live, if we’re married and have children of our own, etc. It’s hard to comprehend how different their lives are compared to our own, yet how similar some things are — like how committed they are to making a better life for their children.
In impoverished Guatemala, subsistence unfortunately often takes priority over education, so children are usually unable to continue their education beyond 6th grade. So it is children and education that forms a common bond between all of us, and I want you to know that you’ve made an impact! I can’t begin to describe the emotions and experience of doing this, and if I could bottle those hugs from all the wonderful children and parents we connected with, and share those bottles with each of you, I most certainly would.
Thank you again so much for your support … you have truly made a difference in these kids’ lives!!
Next week Team Dayā heads to Guatemala and the community of Caserío Sector Los Castro to build our third school. Please consider a donation – we cannot do this without the help of our many supporters.
Caserío Sector Los Castro is an agricultural community of 700 people within the municipality of San Pedro Jocopilas in the larger department of El Quiché. You can see the area, northwest of the capital Guatemala City, on this map. The primary crops in the area are black beans and corn.
Similar to what we found in Senegal last March, this community built a basic school building two years ago with boards, sheet metal and an earth floor. The single teacher teaches 34 students (19 boys and 15 girls) in grades 1st through 6th. The new school will offer increased capacity for students and there are already plans for a second teacher.
We welcome your donations for our Guatemala school build. You can donate to Team Dayā overall or to any of these three members traveling to Guatemala :
Donate to Jordan “Gone Fishing” Mitchell. Jordan is a founding partner of Team Dayā and a longtime ad tech executive. He has worked at the IAB Tech Lab, Rubicon Project and was the founder of Others Online. He can often be found fly fishing across the American West.
Donate to Michael “The Bricklayer” Benedek. Michael is the president and CEO of leading independent data marketplace Datonics, with over 25 years in the Internet, financial services and healthcare fields based out of New York and in Tel Aviv.
Donate to Jay “The Instigator” Sears. Jay is the founder of Team Dayā and a longtime ad tech executive. He works at Tentrr and has run the local media news site MyRye.com since 2006. He has worked at Mastercard, Rubicon Project, Pulsepoint, ContextWeb, EDGAR Online and Wolff New Media.
We will be telling you more about the Guatemala school build in future updates.
We are very pleased to announce our first head of recruiting will be our friend and team member Jaryd Knutsen.
Jaryd will be working with us to make sure we continue to build out Team Dayā and support our team members. Making our team members successful means we can continue Building Change in communities in need of schools.
Meet Jaryd. Then we’ll see you on a future build … -Jay
Your name: Jaryd Knutsen
Your Day Job: I lead sales for TRUSTX, a programmatic supply-side platform.
Your Team Dayā Job: Head of Recruiting
How do you describe Team Dayā’s purpose to friends and family?
Knutsen: I describe Team Dayā as a group of friends of the digital advertising community, who want to make a positive impact in a scalable way. We do this by enabling a safe environment for childhood education, with a focus on the most impoverished areas of the world. In societies where the majority of children don’t have access to infrastructure that supports education, the impact of a new school facility carries on for years, and reaches generations of people within these communities. We build schools in partnership with buildOn, and work hand-in-hand with the communities, with the support from their local leadership.
Knutsen: I’ve come to realize that the key to genuine happiness and feeling fulfilled is by serving others. When exploring various outlets to give back, having the opportunity to get hands-on and do something face-to-face with the people we want to help, became an important criteria. When Jay approached me about starting Team Dayā, the opportunity to live and work with the local communities while helping them build the infrastructure for education, was most appealing and motivating to get involved.
What is one of your best memories from that first school groundbreaking?
Knutsen: The welcoming ceremony the local community gave us was something I’ll never forget. The speeches from the local leadership, the songs, the dancing, the traditions, the children running around, everything about it was awe inspiring. We were welcomed with so much kindness and gratitude, it really made me realize the positive impact we’re making on these families and communities.
Each team member helps to fundraise–what are the good and bad parts of fundraising?
Knutsen: The good is that you get to reconnect with so many old friends and colleagues, with something genuinely positive to talk about. It’s always inspiring for me, when engaging with a friend about supporting Team Dayā, as you often hear how they too are doing something meaningful by serving others. It really reminds you how much good really does happen in this world, when it’s so easy to get lost in the negative news cycles we’re all exposed to.
The bad, or I supposed the hard part is that you have to really put in the time and effort. Money doesn’t raise by itself. You have to manufacture the energy and enthusiasm to do proactive outreach.
What are the various ways someone can get involved and support Team Dayā?
#1 Join an upcoming build! Connect with me or Jay, and we’ll give you some options to join upcoming builds in Malawi, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Nepal and Senegal.
#3 Sponsor an entire School build. Have a group of family or friends that would like to join you? Reach out to me firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll review some options for your group to sponsor a school.
Team Dayā needs your assistance to take advantage of a $15,000 matching challenge between now and December 31st.
Our friends at U of Digital will donate dollar for dollar up to $15,000 to our general fund for every dollar you donate to Team Dayā and its members. This is an opportunity to raise up to $30,000 in the next ten days. Will you help us?
Team Dayā is excited to announce our 2023 school builds. There are many big and small ways you can support our work, and we welcome your involvement.
Next year we will finally deliver on our original 2020 pre-pandemic plans to fund and build schools in Guatemala and Malawi. For those that remember, we were six weeks from our Malawi project starting in 2020 when the global coronavirus pandemic brought the world to a standstill.
Our current 2023 schedule:
Guatemala (Central America): Project Start March 12, 2023
Guatemala is currently ranked as the third poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and ranks in the bottom 10th percentile of all countries for income inequality. Fifty-nine percent of the country’s population lives in poverty at U.S. $1.90 a day and 29% are unable to read or write.
Team Dayā is scheduled to start its school groundbreaking in Guatemala on Sunday, March 12, 2023. If you are interested in learning more, or possibly traveling with us to work on the groundbreaking, please contact us.
Malawi (East Africa): Project Start July 2, 2023
Malawi is consistently ranked among the world’s 20 least developed countries on the UN Human Development Index. Seventy-one percent of the country’s population lives below the poverty line of US $1.90 a day. Nearly half of primary school-age children dropout before advancing to secondary school and the literacy rate in Malawi is only 62% among people 15 years old and older.
Team Dayā is scheduled to start its school groundbreaking in Malawi on Sunday, July 2, 2023. If you are interested in learning more, or possibly traveling with us to work on the groundbreaking, please contact us.
The Team Dayā school in Nguiddine Keur Sara in the Fatick region of Senegal is complete! Previously operating from two temporary classrooms made from millet stalks, sticks, leaves and cardboard, the community’s 100+ first, second and third graders now enjoy a proper, permanent school building.
Waly Gueye is the father of four boys and four girls, who all attend Nguindine Keur Sara’s primary school. He has expressed that he does not want his kids to experience the same problems he encountered which resulted from his lack of formal education.
“I never had peace of mind when my children attended classes in the temporary shelter because of the dangers that were there. The classrooms were very dangerous because of the scorpions, plus there was no door so the cows and donkeys would often roam around inside. The heat and the wind would also make them sick,” he revealed.
Fatou Gueye, age nine, is one of Mr. Gueye’s daughters. Her favorite subject is math and she would like to become a teacher when she is older. She is very happy with the new classrooms and their beautiful desks, blackboards, and cement floor. Before the construction of the new school block, Fatou was not motivated to attend classes due to the frustrating conditions.
“The dust in the old school made me cough a lot,” recalls Fatou.
Fatou and her dad are very grateful for the gift that Team Dayā and its non-profit partner buildOn have brought to their community. On behalf of the whole community they would like to thank Team Dayā for changing the children of Nguindine Keur Sara’s lives forever.
After the school groundbreaking in March, building continued though May. The students were able to move in and enjoy their new school at the end of their year before their summer recess of July, August and September. The school has two classrooms as well as a separate structure with a girls and boys latrine.
Team Dayā and its non-profit partner buildOn built this school alongside the community of Nguindine Keur Sara. The community contributed the land and natural resources such as sand, water, and gravel to the project. A Project Leadership Committee consisting of six men and six women from Nguindine Keur Sara were selected to oversee the school build.
“Being the only woman who knows how to read and write in this community makes me feel that education is the key for opportunity – that education is the key that opens any door in this world,” said one of the women on the Project Leadership Committee via a translator during the school groundbreaking in March.
These incredible leaders not only helped to collect supplies, they also organized crews to volunteer on the worksite each day. By the end of the project, the men and women of Nguindine Keur Sara had proudly contributed 1,340 volunteer work days to the building of their new school.
The flight to Senegal for a Team Dayā school build with Jay Sears & Hasan Arik was a short flight at the end of a long journey that began years ago when I read about Jay Sears’ vision to give back and launch a charity— Team Dayā–backed by corporate and individual donors from the adtech / martech world to build schools in the developing world.
It Seemed Far Fetched
The vision spoke to me at the time but it seemed so theoretical and far-fetched—- how would I and others like me do something like that? I was focused elsewhere–my work at Datonics, my family, my co-op board, and my involvement as a co-sponsor (the less important one) in launching a charter school in Manhattan–a well-intentioned project that ended up getting rejected by the State of NY’s bureaucratic, charter-granting body despite numerous meetings with state and local representatives, community board meetings, and more.
Education & My Family
The importance of equal access to education has always been top of mind for me. My grandparents, who had their later school-age years stolen from them, never attended college but made up for it with street smarts and ensured that their children, who grew up in Canada, went to college.
My father arrived in Canada as a teenager from Romania, speaking neither English nor French, but graduated with a PhD in engineering from McGill University about 10 years later. My mother studied French in college & worked as a teacher in her early years; my wife taught in progressive schools in New York City & now runs a middle school in Manhattan; and my own company Datonics has played a leadership role with a charity called Futures and Options for many years–providing gifted and talented high school students from historically underrepresented communities with the opportunity to intern with and work for technology / financial services companies in New York City–opening students’ eyes to opportunities they might not have been aware of. Education is and always will be part of my DNA.
A bit before COVID-19 hit, I saw that Luma Partners was hosting a Team Dayā info session in New York led by Jay Sears. I put that in my calendar, but work got in the way and I did not attend. But I remembered meeting Jay at IAB Leadership Summit in Palm Springs a couple years prior and getting a great vibe, so I gave him a call and gave him my best pitch about why he should accept me as part of his team and let me get involved.
Thankfully, he accepted me, telling me “Welcome aboard— as soon as you raise $10,000 you can go on a school build.” And off to the races I went, during COVID-19, benefiting from generous corporate/personal donations from old friends, new friends, family, and from Datonics’ own adtech giveback initiative with agencies and brands that helped me reach our goal–but how were we going to build a school during COVID-19 in developing countries where most are unvaccinated? The school build was inching closer but still seemed so far away!
In January 2022 I get a call from Jay–“Mike, our school building partner, buildOn, told me we may be able to build a school in Senegal starting in mid-March–are you in? I want to get this done ASAP to build momentum and make up for lost time due to COVID-19–so that we can then do the next builds in Malawi & Guatemala.” This is a man with a vision–he was planning for Senegal to get done as a path to the next two! I loved it and said, “Let’s do it!”.
Only two months later, after countless vaccinations, multiple COVID tests & the promise of 2-3 tests more before we arrived to & during our time in the village–we met at JFK on a Friday night for our flight to Dakar.
Three days later, after receiving our names in Wolof (mine was “DIEN GAI”) along with valuable language/cultural instruction, we arrived in the community of Nguiddine Keur Sara in the Fatick region of Senegal accompanied by two translators, and were met by galloping horses, pick-up trucks with cheering children, and a parade of dancing women and children. There were drums & local dance moves, and a ceremony in honor of the school groundbreaking. The whole community (I would estimate 200+ adults, with 150+ children were at this celebration) then signed a covenant to build the school with us, and we delivered speeches of thanks in response to their speeches of welcome and thanks, putting the first shovels in alongside the Village chief, village imam, and women leaders.
Our Days in Nguiddine Keur Sara Village
Over the rest of the week, we connected deeply with members of the community–a community without electricity or running water. We slept on the floor in a grain shed adjacent to their homes under a mosquito net (normally we would have stayed in their homes but to protect them from COVID-19, we stayed in the grain shed), walked through their fields, played soccer with their children (and I even taught them how to play some card games), danced to Senegalese music, and worked hand in hand with them, day in and day out, for five hours per day in 109 degree heat.
Days started with stretching and that led to brick-making, cement mixing, digging the foundations of the school and the latrines, and more. Like Jordan experienced in Nepal, we wore work gloves and earned blisters, while the community worked with their bare hands (with no blisters)!
Each afternoon we spent on cultural exchanges–meeting the Village Chief and elders, meeting the representatives of the women, meeting the principal & teachers, learning how to prepare millet, learning how to build a chicken coop, tame a bull, and just hanging out with the kids and their animals–donkeys, sheep, chickens, roosters.
My takeaways were like what Jordan experienced in Nepal. First, WOMEN RULE!!!!–the Senegalese women, dressed to kill, often with babies hanging from their arms (and breasts), outworked the men–mixing and carrying cement, rallying the men to work longer and harder, and dancing at the work site.
The second key takeaway was–something that should be obvious to all–that money and material things do not bring happiness (though your donations do help build a school!). This community had very few things, yet they had everything they needed and were very happy. The only thing they lacked easy access to was “education”–with their kids walking 5 miles to school in some cases, and in other cases having classes in a thatched hut.
When it was time to say our goodbyes, the whole community again came together to dance and sing, and we all shed many tears that will bind us together forever. The world is a small place and while I arrived to give, I received far more in return–happiness and fulfillment that cannot be described.
I pray that with the support of Team Dayā and our generous donors–you and others like you–Senegal was only my first school–Malawi, Nicaragua and Guatemala here we come. I can’t wait to get started with your help!